USA World Cup Group Stage Grades (Midfielders and Forwards)

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The group stage of the 2010 World Cup is now over for the United States, and while the Yanks were three minutes from being eliminated, they will now advance to the knockout rounds. As the team prepares for Ghana on Saturday, TSB is grading each player on the team based on their performance in the group stages. Part One will look at the teams goalkeeper and defenders, and Part Two will look at the midfielders and forwards.

Midfielders:
Landon Donovan: A. He may not have the captain’s armband, but the US team clearly runs through Donovan, its best player. When the team needed someone to take over the match down 2-0 against Slovenia, Donovan obliged, scoring a wonder-goal early in the second half and then setting up the equalizer later with a perfect long ball (he would have had the assist on Maurice Edu’s game-winner as well, but we won’t get into that). Then, with the USA staring at an early exit after countless missed chances against Algeria, who else but Donovan popped up with an injury time goal. A more complete performance against Algeria, or a little magic against England would have garnered Donovan an A+, but he’s still a front-runner for US MVP at this point.

Michael Bradley: A. Another, less-expected candidate for US group stage MVP. An ever-present in the central midfield, the coach’s son has shown that there is a polished offensive game to match the defensive steel and endless energy that he is more well-known for. His driving runs through the middle and his snappy passing have both created numerous opportunities for the USA, and his exquisite finish on the equalizer against Slovenia will live for a long time in the memories of American fans. And the scary thing is, the 22-year old is still getting better.

Clint Dempsey: A-. Say what you want about Dempsey, but Deuce knows how to put the ball in the net. True, Rob Green made an enormous blunder on Dempsey’s shot in the England game, but Dempsey still gets credit for the goal that earned a crucial point. He also scored against Algeria, only to be called offsides when replays show that was not the case. He was also involved in Donovan’s game winning goal, forcing a save from Jozy Altidore’s cross, which then rebounded right to Donovan. He can still be frustrating at times, and it’s still not clear whether it is more beneficial to play him up front or on the wing, but clearly Dempsey needs to be on the pitch for the US to be successful.

Benny Feilhaber: B+. It seems like every good team these days has a Brazilian in the squad, and the Rio-born Feilhaber has gotten better and better as the tournament has gone on. The former UCLA Bruin looked rusty when he first came on in the Slovenia match, but he eventually settled down and got comfortable on the ball. As a half-time sub for the US against Algeria, Feilhaber showed just how useful his vision and touch can be, providing deft passing and an attacking impetus when the US needed it. Whether he starts or not, it is safe to say he has earned some time in the knockout stage.

Maurice Edu: B/B+. Like Feilhaber, Edu started slowly as a sub against Slovenia. His passing was way off and his positioning was not much better. He too settled down, though, and should have had a famous winner when he converted Donovan’s free kick at the end of the match. Edu was much better as the defensive midfielder behind Michael Bradley against Algeria before being taken off for Edson Buddle as the US pressed for a goal. Has he done enough to start alongside Bradley against Ghana? Probably.

Jose Torres: B-. Torres was getting a lot of support for a starting spot before the World Cup, but and indifferent match against Slovenia could prove harmful to his opportunities for more playing time. Torres started the game but was unable to showcase the ball retention and incisive passing that US supporters thought were desperately needed. He did force a fine save on a beautiful left-footed free-kick, but that was not enough to avoid being subbed out at half time.

Ricardo Clark: B-. Clark got the starting nod against England but was partially at fault for Steven Gerrard’s opening goal, as Clark failed to track Gerrard’s run into the box. He was not terrible after that, and he covered a lot of ground as the holding midfielder, but his passing and ball-winning could have been better. As a result, he did not feature against Slovenia or Algeria, and may have a difficult time getting back into the lineup.

Stuart Holden: N/A. With a wealth of attacking talent in the midfield, Stu’s contribution this World Cup has been limited to just five minutes off the bench against England. As such, it is difficult to give him a grade for the group stages. He certainly has the skill to be an impact sub in the knockout round, however, and he also deserves some credit for being the first guy to congratulate (i.e. dogpile on top of) Donovan on his game-winning goal against Algeria.

Forwards:
Jozy Altidore: A-. The 20-year old has not scored so far in the World Cup, but that should not take away from his efforts. He nearly stole the England match with a barnstorming run down the left that ended with a shot off the post, and has been aggressive in running at defenders since. His hold-up play has also been strong, and his knockdown of a Donovan ball led to Bradley’s goal against Slovenia. If he can put all of his moments of brilliance together over 90 minutes, and have a little bit more composure with his finishing, he could be unstoppable.

Robbie Findley: B-. The Real Salt Lake man got the starting nod in the USA’s first two matches, but could not play in the third due to (dubious) yellow card accumulation. To be honest, though, he might not have started anyway. Findley had a few nice touches and runs, but rarely showcased the speed that was supposed to make him the ideal replacement for the injured Charlie Davies. Did not look particularly dangerous, but may get another chance due to the open competition for the spot next to Altidore.

Edson Buddle: B. Why is there open competition for that spot? Because Edson Buddle and Herculez Gomez also failed to stake claim to it. Buddle came on as a second-half sub both against England and Algeria, but did not make a huge impression in either match. He did get in position for a great chance against Algeria, but hit his header right at the keeper. Like his other MLS teammates, he has not looked completely out of his depth on the international stage, but he may be too similar to Altidore to warrant a start in the knockout round.

Herculez Gomez: B. Herc made a cameo in the Slovenia game and then got the start, in Findley’s absence, against Algeria. Like his counterparts, he has not been poor, but he has not really done anything to make you say, “that guy needs to be on the field.” Even if he does not start again, though, don’t be surprised if he’s on the pitch if the US finds itself needing another late goal. Let’s just hope we’re not in that situation again for a while.

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